HOUSTON — Experts who gathered in Houston for the State of the Gulf of Mexico Summit this week warned against a rush to judgment and pessimism after the Galveston Bay oil spill.

“At this point in time, it’s good policy not to start predicting doom and gloom,” said Dr. Quenton R. Dokken, president and CEO of the Gulf of Mexico Foundation.

He is among the speakers for the four-day summit.

“In truth, it’s not a large spill,” Dokken said. “It will have impact; there’s no question about that. But to what extent that impact is, to say anything right now is just pure speculation and guess.”

Dokken’s foundation is focused on the sustainability and productivity of the natural ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea and the economic structures of the region.

The foundation is financially supported by government grants and the private sector, largely oil and gas companies that drill in the Gulf.

“Any spill, large or small, is not good and is to be taken seriously, but we just do need to not be crying wolf if the wolf is not at the door,” he said.

Dr. David W. Yoskowitz of Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi studies the economic effect of oil spills and hurricanes.

He spoke at the summit and cited lessons learned after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion in April 2010 that led to a major oil spill.

“I think one of the things we learned coming out of Deepwater Horizon was that even if our beaches and back bays were not impacted, it was the public perception that they might have been impacted that really could put a damper on visitors and tourism in the Corpus Christi area, and I’m sure this was the case in Galveston as well,” said Yoskowitz, who is the endowed chair for socio-economics at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies.

“Even though our beaches weren’t impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, there was this perception from visitors in the middle part of the country that they were.

“We want to try to avoid that because we’re talking about people’s livelihoods that could be potentially impacted by fewer visitors coming to Galveston, for example for the summer season because of some perception that is misplaced.”

Both men stressed that the oil spill will take a toll.

“Birds will be the most noticeable casualties to it, and while this is certainly very emotionally devastating to see animals impacted, but it’s not likely to change the overall population of those birds,” Dokken said.

Yoskowitz said another possible effect of such a spill is an increase in activism among Galveston Bay residents.

“There will be a process where they can share concerns,” he said.

“Be engaged in that process, be transparent, be forthright and really be looking at planning and processes that are best for the future of Galveston Bay,” Dokken said.

“Be thinking about the long term, on how to improve things so these type of accidents don’t happen next time around.”

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